Apropos of my post on “The Other Blood Diamonds” several weeks back, Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, now a visiting scholar at the African Studies department at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, took some time to speak with me last week about the problems in Angola’s diamond industry. The former journalist makes several serious charges here that could become issues for the Kimberley Process if it adopts some form of human rights language, particularly since these alleged abuses relate directly to diamond extraction.
Highlights of our conversation follow:
How bad is the human rights situation around Angolan diamonds?
There is no country in the world that commits more violence against artisanal miners than Angola. It is one of those situations that no one has an interest in except for the locals. Everyone is afraid to address the problems. In my report, I say there are over 500 cases of people tortured and over 100 deaths.
After my report, the government was under pressure and announced it was distributing legal permits for artisanal miners. But they only went to a handful of people and the same level of violence continues unabated. They just made a mockery of the system. There has never been a genuine attempt by the government to solve the problems.
The Kimberley Process is legitimizing what the government is doing: serious crimes against humanity, violations of human rights, summary executions, and all sorts of abuses. When a similar process occurred in Zimbabwe, because of international pressure, the Zimbabwe government was not allowed to export diamonds. With Angola, you don’t get any scrutiny.
Who is perpetrating these abuses? Is it government or industry?
You cannot distinguish the companies from the army because the President’s daughter has been a business partner of [mining company] Ascorp. The top generals are shareholders of the countries extracting the diamonds and you have the army taking part in mining and in a number of these abuses. The private security companies that protect the industry all belong to the generals. So there is a lot of overlap and it is difficult to distinguish between public and private.
People will argue that these people are illegal diggers, and these security companies are just doing what they need to restore order.
There is no law in Angola that allows private security companies to execute diggers. We don’t have the death penalty in Angola. Angola forbids torture. And when the Angolan army buries 45 diamond diggers, as it did at the end of 2009, the government does absolutely nothing to punish the soldiers. Where in the world does a business get the right to bury people alive on the grounds that they are doing something illegal?
People in the industry will say we don’t have an expertise to look into these questions, we need the United Nations to take action.
The United Nations hasn’t done anything. They said the soldiers need re-training. These are serious crimes. You can’t just pick out individuals who commit crimes against humanity. It is not about training. It is about accountability.
So what should the Kimberley Process do?
I think my first recommendation is to get serious about the abuses in Angola and act according to international standards.
I have done a very detailed report. The Kimberley Process should make an effort to connect with those who have first-hand experience with the violence and take this situation seriously. If they find Angola in gross violation, it should be punished.
Why should Angola be exempted from the same standards that apply to Zimbabwe? It’s about using the very same standards, not more, not less.